Friday, December 1, 2017
Just enough. . .
We have Roman Catholics who view doctrine and practice as a grand buffet from which they pick and choose the things desirable, meaningful, and reasonable to them. We have Lutherans always looking over their shoulders at the next best way to grow or be the church and they want to know how far they can push the envelope and still be Lutheran. Congregations look at the liturgical resources of denominational hymnals as starting points and then adapt and adjust what is there until they find what feels right to them (often dealing with music issues and the availability or affordability of accompaniment options). Christians of all stripes look at the shape of the world around them and wonder how much the faith can be adapted to the changing landscape and still be Christian (especially with respect to marriage, family, cohabitation, GLBTQ, and other challenges to Judeo-Christian morality and teaching).
Reinhold Niebuhr and his descriptions of the various ways church and culture relate remain an urgent question and a source of dispute for us today. How much can or should Christianity concede to modern culture? Some are willing to surrender a great deal -- even to the point where Christian distinctives fade almost completely away. But what we end up with us not merely what one described as the "dull incoherence of liberal Protestantism." It is the complete surrender of our identity and the exchange of eternal truth for one expected to change as rapidly and as dynamically as circumstances warrant. On the other hand, there are those who hunker down, refusing to surrender an inch and making every hill the one to die on. Underneath it all is the lost question of how the Church converts the modern world, the power of the Word to call us out and set us apart, the promise of persecution and suffering that accompany the call to faithfulness, and the confidence that God is the One at work and the guarantor both that the Church will survive and people will hear and believe. Instead, the Church is too often viewed as a fragile institution that must change or die or one that must be protected from all change or it will die.
Since I am Lutheran, I will frame it in those terms. What do we gain by a Lutheranism that wants to be just enough Lutheran in piety, catechesis, and mission as one can be and still be Lutheran? The people whom we gain from that perspective are not Lutheran, do not feel comfortable with Lutheranism, and will not remain Lutheran once they leave that congregation. The Lutheran Church that supports such cutting edge missions divides itself, creating a schism over personal preference in music and worship "style" and a fellowship within a fellowship not really in fellowship with the Church. Lutheranism becomes theoretical -- an idea without a face or place in which it is lived out within the context of worship, teaching, and preaching.
On the one hand, we Lutherans are boxed in by those who want to Lutheran in theory but in practice free to worship in ways they think will pack them in and on the other hand by those who look Lutheran on Sunday morning but no longer have confidence in the Biblical Word or its doctrine expressed in liturgy and creed (preserving a form but without a content). I am not even thinking about denominations here but tensions within those denominations. How far can we stretch the fabric without tearing asunder our name, identity, and confession?
Some continually frame the tensions within our church body within the parameters of mission minded people vs maintenance minded folks. There are those who ridicule the pop contemporary music and those who make fun of so-called impossible to sing German melodies. There are those who mock the evangelical in his uniform of t-shirt, open shirt, jeans or khakis, and obligatory facial hair (5 o'clock shadow or beard) and those who snidely call vestments dresses. And then there are those who insist, none of it matters as it is all adiaphora (wrongly translating that to mean anything goes). In the end, however, the fatal flaw in all of this is why anyone would want to be anything less than the Lutheran our Confessions claim us to be? Why shoot for Lutheran lite in practice or in doctrine? Why strive for minimums instead of maximums? Why do just enough instead of more than enough?
Which reminds me. The biggest thing I have against the new Luther docu-drama is the title. Luther is not the idea that changed the world and Lutheranism is not an idea. But I have trouble convincing even Lutherans of this.