Most of my adult life has included an anticipatory wait for the latest from the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau' Lutheran Forum and its supplement Forum. A subscriber since 1972, it was one of those must read sources of information on the subjects of liturgy and worship, Lutheran unity, and, of course, As Missouri Turns. No matter what side of those issues you were on, these publications were must read. Before the advent of the information age, the internet, and a 24 hour news cycle, we were left pacing to see what was the latest from NYC or New Haven, MO. We knew the names by heart -- Koenig, Neuhaus, Stone, Baily, Klein, etc... We read while Missouri blew up, the AELC, ALC, and LCA came together, and the world marched on by caring little about either.
I have to admit that I developed a certain fondness even for articles with which I was prone to disagree. When I lived for a year on Long Island and later as a Lutheran pastor between Albany and NYC for some 13 years, I met some of the names now chronicled through the annals of its history (Changing World, Changeless Christ). There was a time when I would stop whatever I was doing to read the ALPB publication that came in the mail. Not so much anymore. In fact, days go buy before I bother to open the quarterly journal or peruse the newsletter. The world has changed. Lutheranism is far different than it was in 1972 or even a decade or two later. The glory names of its history are either Roman Catholic or dead. Its attempt to focus its mission more pan-Lutheran has left it without many subscribers -- LCMS or otherwise. It is not the first to struggle along while others packed it in.
After reading the history, it is clear to me that some things the Forum folks got wrong -- dead wrong. Missouri's stand for dead orthodoxy has left it as the last remaining hope for confessional Lutheranism in the USA (and, perhaps, beyond). Missouri is not in great shape but at least it has not committed wholesale abandonment of its Lutheran-ness in pursuit of crawling in bed with every other dying mainline Christian denomination in America or embracing the latest GLBTQ position as its own. In some respects, Neuhaus and others put their money on the wrong horse in the church wars of the 1960s-1980s. The ordination of women has led to the ordination of GLBTQ clergy -- whether by accident or intention. The skeptical view of Biblical history and its message has led to a distance between what is believed, confessed, and taught and the Scriptural witness. The renewal of Lutheranism got derailed and the Preus' brothers cannot be blamed for the sham and shell that is much of Lutheranism in America today. Bleeding people and red ink, Lutheranism bears little witness to the admiring story TIME magazine foretold of its future back in 1958. The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau has fared no better. I have as many readers per day on my meager blog as ALPB has subscribers and this is not as much a credit to me as it is a sign of the grand decline of the once great effort to equip LCMS pastors with practical help toward a resurgent Lutheran identity.
Richard Johnson is a credible editor and writer for the Forum Letter but he worships at an Episcopal congregation -- despite being many steps to the right of the current leadership of the ELCA. Who would have thought that the ALPB would lead to this? The editorship of the Lutheran Forum is still open when this is being written and there is probably no chance in hell that the editor would be LCMS -- nor that his affiliation might make any difference at all. Lutheran ecumenism has been eclipsed by an ELCA that will marry nearly anyone but Missouri and Missouri whose brightest prospects for a marriage partner probably lie with Lutherans in Africa. We have Lutherans in name who say they believe like Lutherans while acting like liberal Methodists and Episcopalians and we have Lutherans who worship like evangelicals but insist they still hold to the theory of what it means to be Lutheran. We have Lutherans who have recovered their catholic liturgical identity and Lutherans who insist that whatever works to pack them in is best practice. We have diversity which has become the goal of nearly every Lutheran group but Lutheranism is just as white as ever. We have a great history of Lutheran education but most Lutheran colleges and universities see their Lutheran identity more as legacy and heritage than guiding force or influential identity for who they are and what they do. We have a ton of Lutheran seminaries but not so many Lutheran seminarians.
In the end, I guess, I lament how so many things turned out. I wish that Missouri had taken on the theological questions front and center instead of relying on by-law to deal with an expanding gulf between her profs and her people. I wish that Missouri and the ALC had gotten together before Missouri was entering the fight for its soul and the ALC had already begun to ordain women. I wish that the LCA was more prominent in the ELCA -- at least the old kind of LCA from the 1950s. I wish that it were still possible to realign Lutheranism into people who wanted to be Lutheran and those who did not care about it all that much. Missouri may have won the Battle for the Bible but at what cost? The ecumenists got a Lutheran merger but at what cost? Lutheran seminaries wanted to do more than train pastors but at what cost? All around us Lutheranism is in decline because it either forgets its history to pursue relevance or it forgets its history to mimic the evangelicals or it forgets its history to be accepted by mainline churches. The greatest shock of all is that many of those who once were thought to be Lutheranism's future leaders are Roman Catholics.
So, what else is new? Could it have turned out worse? I suppose. But I would have rather tried simply to be Lutheran and seen all this failure than to have tried to be somebody else and failed -- which seems to be what most Lutherans have done. Strange, isn't it, that where Lutheran is still vital is where Lutherans are still Lutheran?!?! I wonder if there is a lesson there. I wonder if the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau and its twin publications of Forum and Forum Letter are paying any attention. I sure hope the Lutherans I know are. If there is a future for us, it will not be because we minimize our Lutheran identity or trade it away for our 15 minutes of fame. I think you can take that last bit of wisdom to the bank.