We were not alone. Lutherans were not the only ones watching and learning. Much of American Protestantism joined the movement to dress up their churches in the borrowed clothing of evangelicalism. Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Dutch Reformed, Wesleyans, Pentecostals, and even Episcopalians all started to look eerily similar. We all agreed that though this was not who we were in confession, it was who we needed to be to jump on the growth train to rescue us from oblivion. As the stagnation became decline, the numbers pushed us to desperation. It was our duty to do whatever was necessary to make the church grow. The cause of Jesus was, after all, more important than creed, confession, liturgy, and piety. It began to seem shallow and self-serving to choose faithfulness over outreach. Those who did were painted with the harshest judgment of all -- maintenance workers. Jokes were rendered about who would turn out the lights and lock the door when the last old man or old lady still clinging to their hymnal died. Books were written to make light of our dullness -- how many Lutherans does it take to change a burned our light bulb? None, we never change anything.
But now, it seems, America is no longer in love with the evangelicals or their wannabes. The election has cast a shadow over evangelicals because of their overwhelming support for Trump. It did not help that prominent stars in the evangelical spotlight have had their reputations tarnished for financial or sexual improprieties. It did not help that evangelicals were divided over abortion and the cause of life. It did not help that evangelicals have been slow to join the woke culture and adopt the full LGBTQ+ agenda. It did not help that the growth of the nones has diluted the prestige of the evangelicals as a social force or voting block. It did not help that the evangelicals found themselves a less exclusive group when more and more Protestants and even Roman Catholics began to mimic their style. But the end reality is that most Christians no longer have evangelicals as a group to emulate in the hopes of rescuing themselves and their denominational structures. The shine is off their star. So who will we follow now?
I cannot guarantee what jurisdictions and leaders will do but I would suggest that now might be a good time to be who we are. The lie of separating style and substance has never served us well and many who sought hope in evangelicalism were half-hearted enthusiasts at best. We all knew that this is not who we really were. So how about trying to be who we actually are. In worship, in creed, in confession, and in identity, let us be the Church of the Augsburg Confession. Let us stop apologizing for who we are. If who we are is not Biblical, if it deviates from the catholic faith (as Augustana insists), let us reform the reform so that it is in accord with Scripture and the great tradition. But if we read our confessions, confess our creeds, and pray our liturgy because they are faithful, let us not be embarrassed by this. This is not our crutch but our foundation, not our weakness but our strength. The Church that grows by lies and deception is not the Church established by Christ. The truth still sets us free. So let us cast off every constraint of fear over what those outside the faith might think of us or a path devoid of crosses and work and follow Christ, being the Church in its fullness. The world cannot overcome and the devil cannot stop the work of the Spirit acting through the means of grace. If that Word and Sacraments are the beating heart of who we are, whatever God chooses will endure and we will be just fine.