By Cindy Koch –
I sit here drinking my coffee with 70 others. Most of these friendly faces have grey hair, and deep smile lines. They laugh together when someone mentions the patterns of standing and sitting; we all understand the same cultural joke. They respond, on que, when the leader opens with, “The Lord be with you.” “And also with you.” I love Lutherans.
Like a familiar family, I feel uncomfortably safe with these strangers. I know the rules. I get the jokes. I recognize their mannerisms, not because I personally know these people, but because I remember a whole culture of these very same interactions. I know Lutherans.
Even more strange, a conversation with any one of these delightful friends ends up in a game of 2 degrees from my Lutheran brother. Everyone knows someone you know, in these world-wide small Lutheran circles. You can travel half way across the planet only to share a bus with dearly loved members from your previous congregation. There is a whole civilization of Lutherans who married Lutherans, who went to school with Lutherans, who went to church with Lutherans, who are now travelling with their Lutheran friends. I meet a lot of Lutherans.
In the comfort of Ventura, my Lutheran fellowship continues. The Lutherans that I meet on the road are also right here in my life. I worship with them, I eat with them, I learn with them, I even have fun with them (ha, ha, Lutheran sarcasm). But something I have recognized recently, looking out from the inside of my Lutheran bubble, there are a lot of people that used to be Lutheran. I’ve met tons of them, just in the small costal paradise that I now reside. I would bet that there are a good many more that used to be Lutheran in our ever-growing world. I am beginning to wonder about Lutherans.
What is it? What was so attractive about Lutheranism that it captivated so many in the previous generation? After all, a majority of my Lutheran friends seem to be a few years older that I am. What is so wrong with Lutheranism that churches are shrinking today? This is the beaten dead horse of every pastor’s existence today – conferences, books, advice to fix the problem of Lutheran popularity among today’s people. People care about this for good reason – if everybody was Lutheran, then everybody would hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But what if… what if the previous popularity was the problem, not the solution? What if… it was “cool” to be a Lutheran in the 1970s, and that’s the primary reason so many people were drawn in? What if the ease, inclusion, and desirability of the Lutheran culture exploded its membership? What if the problem was cultural, not confessional? What if it had nothing to do with the freedom of the Gospel?
Maybe Lutheranism shouldn’t have been so popular. It is, after all, a very exclusive confession of faith with very particular understandings and definitions. I know for a fact that not all Lutherans live or die upon these confessions, if they even know them. Whatever the reason that it was popular in the past (and there are lots of proposed reasons), the core confession has not changed. Even if the people have changed, or the times have changed, the truth has not. A cultural phenomenon is not a good indicator of God’s Truth.
If our church body did not have the close memories of “success” hanging about our neck, then maybe we would happily see the present situation. Jesus is real. We KNOW that because he breaks into our actual life to prove it personally to us. He stole you away from the devil when water hit your head and His word rang in your ears. He puts food in your mouth, Christ on your tongue, to chew on and eat and drink forgiveness. You are actually tasting the appetizer of a new world, the promised grand banquet as a guest at His feast. He speaks to you almost every day, with real words from His chosen people. They remind you and encourage you to trust in our victorious King, not in this shallow high-school nightmare of a world. Nothing can steal you away from His gifts, because they are entirely from Him.
You, my Lutheran friends, still have this incredible treasure of real and tangible peace. You have hope when there is pain and silence. You have assurance when our hearts go wildly searching. You have comforting silence when biblical paradoxes seek to corner us. You have a desire for conversation and freedom. You don’t crumble under sin, rather boldly announce Christ. You have everything that you always did. I love Lutherans.