Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Not affiliated. . .

I admit it.  I am not simply behind, I am probably hopelessly behind in my reading stack.  Every now and then, often while on a phone queue or waiting for an appointment the occasion to rifle through the stack appears.  This time it was an April issue of Living Lutheran.  They have a series of articles, a rather nice idea actually, with people writing about why they are Lutheran.  The articles are a mixed bag at best and often leave me wishing I had not gotten an answer to why this or that person was Lutheran.  But it is the ELCA and they edit and promote the content.

In this particular issue, right under the name of the author who answers the question Why I am a Lutheran there is this:  A lifelong Lutheran, he currently isn't a member of an individual congregation but continues to be affiliated with the ELCA.  I get the lifelong Lutheran part -- me, too!  But the more curious part is how he is affiliated with the ELCA without being a member of an individual congregation.  Unless I am mistaken, in the ELCA, as in all Lutheran churches in the USA, congregations and clergy are members of the denomination but not laity.  It did not appear that this individual was on the clergy roster so what does it mean to not be a member of an individual congregation but affiliated with the ELCA?  That said, it is not simply the ELCA but, I fear, many Lutherans who might define their situation in the same way.  They are not tied to an altar but feel like they are still connected to Lutheranism.  How, exactly, does that work?  There are some folks like that who show up in my parish occasionally but do not hold membership in any Lutheran congregation and yet would argue fiercely that they are, indeed, Lutheran.  What does this mean?  (A distinctly Lutheran question!)

How did Lutherans get that idea?  Where did Lutherans get that idea?  Is it not required to belong to an individual Lutheran congregation to be affiliated with a Lutheran denomination?  Even paper membership would require this but surely membership in the sense of belonging to and being part of the assembly of the baptized around the Word and Table of the Lord presumes at least this.  Sadly, I find more and more folks who show up in my parish and even desire to be a member here but who cannot remember when or the name of the last Lutheran parish where they did hold membership.  They are like Lutheran lone rangers who identify as Lutherans without actually belonging.  Ahhhh, maybe I stumbled upon it.  They identify as Lutheran.  Is that not the same idea as those with a woman's body who think/feel they are men and those with a man's body who identify as a woman?  Maybe this is what laid the groundwork for the gender identity issue that is the rage.  If you identify as a Lutheran, that is enough -- no need to be part of the messy stuff of church, worship, communion, Bible study, giving, etc...  It is in what you identify as and not what you believe or do that makes you Lutheran.  

I am a hard edged sort of guy who presumes that in order to be Lutheran, at minimum that ought to mean belonging to a Lutheran congregation and worshiping with Lutherans around the Word and Table of the Lord on a regular (meaning mostly weekly) basis.  Otherwise what does that mean?  Affiliated in what way?  We are not a movement or a club but a Church -- a Church that comes together in the weekly gathering of the people of God in His House.  Affiliated is not like a political party designation (oops, I forgot, plenty of folks who identify as Democrats or Republicans never both to vote).  Affiliated is not like belonging to an association that mails you stuff once in a while and you send in a few bucks to let them know you are still alive (oh, wait, that is what affiliated means to some).  I guess the problem is belonging.  But then, it always has been about belonging.

Part of me wishes that God would have chosen a more permanent and visible outward mark to replace baptism -- like a cross branded onto the forehead of the baby or some other indelible sign that people would see.  It would be harder to hide a cross burned into your forehead but it seems far too easy to hide baptismal new life behind fuzzy words like affiliation.  Thanks be to God, He is the almighty Redeemer and I am a poor, humble servant.  But it does not keep me from complaining now does it?


Kurt said...

Pastor Peters,

As one who spent some wayward years AWAY from the Lutheran church, I have seen this attitude in a LOT of Evangelicals - perhaps SOME of those who "identify as Lutheran, but are not attached to any church" have an idea like the Baptists or Evangelical Free church folks do - "I am a Baptist, and so long as I go to a Baptist church, I'm good to go!" Maybe this week one church is having the annual picnic, so I will go there, last week my favorite preacher is substituting at another church, so I went there, next week we will see where the spirit takes me.

Carl Vehse said...

"A lifelong Lutheran, he currently isn't a member of an individual congregation but continues to be affiliated with the ELCA."

More than just the questionable use of "affiliated," unless it is a deathbed statement, the claim of being a "lifelong" anything is misleading.

Secondly, it boggles the imagination that one can claim to be a Lutheran while at the same time claiming to be "affiliated" with the XXXA.