Friday, December 1, 2017

Just enough. . .

The world today has left us enamored with minimums.  All across the world we approach things from the vantage point of how little should be required of us and how little we should be responsible for -- and it affects church as well as every other aspect of our life.

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.


Anonymous said...

Try this version instead:
It's a better title and a better version.

Anonymous said...

If things get a little snarky or even polemic, it’s because we have a choice to either suffer in silence or defend the faith and good confession. If ever ridicule is appropriate it would be in defense of pure doctrine. The one place where judgment is not only appropriate but required of Christians is where doctrine is concerned.

Anonymous said...

Lutheranism has always battled for a balance between law and gospel.
There is the legalism that wants to eliminate adiaphoria. There is
the antinomian crowd that wants to push the envelope in the name
of Christian freedom. What we have is man-made convention resolutions
endorsing gay marriage for laity and clergy alike. We have parishes
who still question the right of women to vote in congregational voters

David Gray said...

We don't need to balance Law and Gospel. We need both in full.

Carl Vehse said...

Lutherans need to maintain the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.

I think someone wrote a book about that.

Carl Vehse said...

Rev. John A. Flamme closed his negative review of the “Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World” docu-drama version by noting:

"All in all, this is a 'politically correct' film from Thrivant and a very unfair and incomplete picture of Luther, his theology and the man. Two thumbs down! Way down!"

It's not known if the "A Return to Grace" version also portrays Martin Luther's Reformation efforts as a "bold fight against oppression" and relates it to the civil rights movement in the United States 450 years later, along hawking the FakeNews Fairy Tale that Martin Luther King, Sr. was named after Martin Luther.

Anonymous said...

Serious question for Pastor Peters: If all growing LCMS congregations have both a traditional service and a contemporary service, what is the problem, since both preach the same gospel and administer the same sacraments? Why not cast a wide net as fishers of men?

I'm sure you remember the 1980s, when it seemed all Lutherans had family members who felt that church was too boring or stuffy (for them) and left for the growing Evangelical churches. The LCMS did the right thing in encouraging churches to continue building the kingdom of Christ through adding contemporary worship. Do you recognize that insisting on a single, right way for Lutherans to worship is in the spirit of Calvin's Regulative Principle, not the Lutheran Normative Principle? Does your translation of Psalm 150 read: "Praise him with organ, vestments, hymns by Gerhardt, a high mass, and...well that's it, stick with that."

Anonymous said...

Some Lutheran parishes are suffocating themselves to death with
extreme legalism. Other Lutheran parishes are diminishing themselves
by reducing everything to gospel freedom. We need both law and gospel
in the proper balance or else Lutheranism loses its identity and

Carl Vehse said...

Anon @ December 1, 2017 at 11:48 AM: "all growing LCMS congregations have both a traditional service and a contemporary service... both preach the same gospel and administer the same sacraments"

Are these two premises valid statements? Do you have referemces to substantiate them?

Anonymous said...

You may view a list of the largest LCMS congregations here:

A visit to each church's website, including Concordia San Antonio and St. Lorenz in Frankenmuth, confirms that they all have a main contemporary service, usually at 11:00.

Again, it is not a question of either/or. These churches have both traditional and contemporary services.

Carl Vehse said...

The list shows the largest LCMS congregations as of October 12, 2016.

But it doesn't show "all growing LCMS congregations." In fact I know at least one of the largest LCMS congregations has declined slightly from previous years.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps another way to look at it is as America as a vast mission field whose culture has changed dramatically since becoming unmoored from a majority conservative Christian tradition. We can create enclaves of Lutheran liturgical tradition (early service) and reach out to Christians who relate to a contemporary style (late service) at the same time.

I recall an Easter service and seeing a young man in a tee shirt and jeans walk into church and turn around and walk right back out because he perceived he didn't "belong" after seeing all the coats and ties.

Our zeal should be for reaching the lost, not zealously maintaining traditions of men.

Dick Wire said...

A minor point: Richard, not Reinhold, Niebuhr wrote about Christ/Church and culture.

Anonymous said...

Let’s say you’re right about the largest LCMS churches having a contemporary service. Should we all see the light and catch the “growther” wave? I don’t know how many times I have heard the assertion that we have to be sensitive to the guy with long hair wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Is contemporary worship bait and switch? Is being a large church a sign of faithfulness? I can look down the street and around every corner in town and find a church with a praise band. I can also see the largest churches in America are heterodox in practice if not heretical. Again, is growth a sign of faithfulness to the Word of God? Should Lutheran pastors emulate Craig Groeschel, Steven Furtick, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, etc.? These so-called pastors have huge megachurches but are they teaching pure doctrine and practice? If an LCMS church lures a street seeker into a contemporary service at what point is he catechized and when does he graduate to full blown liturgical, confessional church? Or is that not the goal? Aren’t we interested in teaching them to observe all that I (Jesus) have commanded you, all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Is it really just a simple faith in Christ or a lifetime of learning from Scripture, the Word of God? We do a disservice to people who walk into our churches and not teach them pure Gospel, pure truth as reflected in the liturgy in the Divine Service and the Lutheran Confessions. Not only that, but if someone is initially attracted to a church because it is meeting their perceived needs, at what point do you awaken them to the real purpose of the Church, i.e., to receive the gifts of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation as offered in the Word and Sacraments? Why are we talking about the church as though it is lacking something and needs to be revitalized? Why do we refer to liturgical orthodox church as “Institutional” in the pejorative and insist that we must be doing something wrong. Did it ever occur to you that you are being sucked into the vortex of the culture? From what I’m hearing about research done on the millennial generation, they are not enamored with marketing gimmicks or church in compliance with the culture. Whatever church is, they want it to be authentic and they don’t trust baby boomers with their souls who insult their intelligence with hip and trendy church. Contemporary worship may be popular but it is theologically shallow and running its course. Christ’s church, like his Word, shall remain regardless of our machinations to make it fit into the world.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

We cannot worry about all that is happening in the Lutheran body, but it is a mixture of positive as well as negatives, most of which is out of our control. What we can do is pray, read our Bibles, stick with the truth and the faithful doctrines we have been taught, and draw closer to the Lord. Your days and mine are measured and precise. Contend for the truth, admonish, encourage, but know for certain, God is still in charge.

Anonymous said...

Another recollection was that those families in the 1980s that left the LCMS were, generally speaking, popular, middle aged, financially successful, not the sort to read much, and had several children. I really think that for them it was choosing "joyful" versus "somber" worship. Also leaving behind churches where descendants of German farmers always seem to struggle with friendliness. Their departure left congregations skewed older. I don't see millennials flocking to church any more than Generation X, so the oft-repeated "Millennials crave authenticity, so they're really conservative traditionalists" line is just that, a line.

Anonymous said...

The LCMS had some earth shaking national conventions which drove folks
away. The J.A.O Preus Presidency comes to mind. The heresy hunts
while he was President of Springfield Seminary and then LCMS President.
He purged the faculties at our 2 Seminaries and made LCMS members
become battle weary. Most of the damage was done at the Battle of
New Orleans and the Anaheim Conventions.

David Gray said...

I think it is clear now that the purges were not thorough enough.

Carl Vehse said...

Anon @ December 2, 2017 at 3:51 PM: "He purged the faculties at our 2 Seminaries and made LCMS members become battle weary."

Speak for yourself. I was in St. Louis in the mid-70s. It was the CSL faculty that got themselves fired by the Board of Control for not returning to the classroom after their hissy fit. If anything, Preuss should have purged more DPs for allowing Seminex grads to be ordained, and probably worked to merge some districts into other regional districts.