Lutherans as Not-Lutherans

By Graham Glover

It looks like a Baptist. It sounds like a Presbyterian. But, it’s really a…Lutheran.

Huh? What? That doesn’t make any sense.

Yeah, I know.

If it looks like a Baptist, it ought to be a Baptist, right? If it sounds like a Presbyterian, it ought to be a Presbyterian, right?

Rational minds would think so.

I think so.

But sometimes this isn’t the case. Sometimes Lutherans look like Baptists. Sometimes they sound like Presbyterians. Sometimes Lutherans are what I like to call, Not-Lutherans.

Why is this? Why do some who confess the Book of Concord to be a right exposition of the Holy Scriptures and the Christian faith continue to look and sound like someone who knows nothing of or just flat rejects the confessions of Lutheranism?

I’m not looking for perfection here (I’d be the biggest hypocrite of them all if I was!). I’m just asking Lutherans to stop placating others. Stop trying to look like someone you’re not – or at least someone your confessions say you shouldn’t be. Stop trying to sound like others, other Christians with whom we are not in altar in pulpit fellowship, in the vain attempt to please those that say Lutheran worship, doctrine, and practice is outdated and stale.

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If you’re a Lutheran, look like one, sound like one. Just be a Lutheran.

If you are ashamed of what Lutheranism is, then stop being one. If you don’t like how Lutheranism looks in worship, how she sounds in preaching, what she confesses in her doctrine, then simply leave her fellowship.

There’s no template I have in mind here. Lutheranism is not a cookie-cutter mold that looks exactly the same, in every place and every time. But you should never leave a Lutheran service and say, “That resembles my friend’s Baptist church.” Nor should you hear a Lutheran sermon and remark, “My Presbyterian pastor says the same thing about the Lord’s Supper.” I’ve never understood when some of my peers ask what I teach in Confirmation class. “The Small Catechism”, I reply, “Isn’t that the core of what all our confirmands should learn?” Blanks stares and bewilderment speak volumes in their reply.

Sometimes I hear laments that Lutheranism is on foreign soil here in the States, that our way of doing theology is by its very nature, hostile to the American way of doing Christianity. And with these laments come a way of doing Lutheranism that is anything but. Those who are scared of authentic Lutheranism change their worship to something that is alien to Lutheran doctrine and practice. Those who sympathize with the latest fad in Evangelical Protestantism, shy away from even talking about, much less teaching or preaching on the confessions of Lutheranism. Lest we come across as inhospitable to the Christian who is new to Lutheranism (whatever that means), some fail to enforce what Lutheranism confesses to be true. In other words, sometimes Lutherans fail to look like or sound like Lutherans. To do so, they say, is to be close-minded and unloving. And so they go on looking like a Christian that is anything but Lutheran.

I have never understood Lutherans as Not-Lutherans. If you’re a Lutheran, just be one. Look like one. Sound like one. Act like one. Be a Lutheran.

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7 thoughts on “Lutherans as Not-Lutherans

  1. Your post is right on the money. Those of us who have experienced a healthy dose of evangelicalism prior to signing on to the Lutheran confessions are probably the most frustrated. When we see capitulation by church leadership and a movement toward what we just left, apart from attending the Divine Service each Sunday (to the degree it’s left in tact) we’re left wondering, “Just how involved do I want to get?”

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  2. “Authentic” is a tough word. Our rites, by our own confessions, are human traditions – they use and convey the Word. I have worshiped with an Liberian congregation in the LCMS that uses dance in lieu of choir anthems at some points and where they retain the African practice of dancing their offerings forward down the aisle rather than using a passed plate. I have sat with LCMS pastors and one DP that have served in Africa and spoke with them concerning differences in worship practices, even differing hymnody. There is an older video on youtube with Cardinal Arinze you speaks of liturgical dance as having a place in some cultures but not North America and I agree.

    So, where were the visual commonalities? What was “authentic”? That came through in the liturgy and in the way we speak with ourselves and others. When we are in the mission field that is, places like NJ, where Lutherans are a demographic oddity, we learn to teach what we believe, in conversation, in choosing our word, in not accepting similarities but, lovingly, expressing differences. In places, like mine, where nearly half a congregation comes from Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, unchurched, and even non-German, non-Nordic ethnic backgrounds (some have dark skin and even get tans!), we learn that “authenticity” is in what we believe and confess. If anything, having similarities is often a way of building a relationship. For instance, I know of several people who came to us because they were Roman Catholic in mixed marriages, not feeling Gospel but not embracing their spouses’ churches because there was no sacramental presence. That’s a conversation starter! Lutheran is not how we look, it is what we confess. That takes pastors and teachers listening and stepping to change the words, make corrections in conversation, celebrate similarities and share differences. This takes more work than simply falling back on pg 15 of the TLH, memorizing and gesturing the “right” ways, at the “right” times.

    As to the Small Catechism, I know of no other foundation for the basics. Adult information classes use “Above All Else” from CPH alongside a free Catechism with Explanation. Heck, if you don’t have one, we’ll buy you a Bible, too.

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    1. HLewis, yes, “authentic” is a tough word. But I don’t know what other word to use to make my point. I’m tired of the confessional v. missional dichotomy.

      My argument isn’t focused entirely on worship and I agree, there is room for some variety in how we as Lutherans worship. But when the Ordo is missing. When there is no Invocation, no Confession/Absolution, no Kyrie, no Gloria, no Collect, no Creed, a rejection of the Lectionary, no Sanctus, no Agnus Dei, (infrequent Sacrament), no Benediction, etc., we’ve got a problem. Granted, this is not the norm, but it’s out there. I confront it more often than I would like from Soldiers and other non-LCMS chaplains who say, “My previous Lutheran church/pastor didn’t do all that Lutheran stuff”.

      The differences in the two parishes I have recently attended illustrate my point. In Columbia, SC we attended a congregation that chanted the entire liturgy (everything!), used incense, offered the Eucharist every Sunday and on Holy Days, and whose pastor wore a chasuble. I loved it. Here in Hawaii, things are a bit different. But even now, with a much more relaxed worship environment, with less frequent offering of the Sacrament, there is no question that the service is Lutheran in substance and character, that the sermons are rooted in a proper understanding of Law and Gospel, that catechesis is done right, etc. The worship styles are very different, but the substance is the same. I may prefer one over the other, but there is no doubting they are are both “authentically” Lutheran.

      As for Confirmation, you might be surprised that not all of our Lutheran congregations default to the Small Catechism. Shocking, I know, but true.

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      1. I grew up with communion every other Sunday. In much of the country, That is what Lutherans saw from about 1900- the mid ’80s. I even heard about monthly or 4 times a year. Until I moved in 1996, I knew only pg 5 & 15. The hymnal was easy, was good for congregational use. The “new” stuff (LW, LBW, LSB) demands talent – you have to be able to chant, sing, read music. I find it as disturbing as “praise” on that level. Up into the early ’80s, all I heard read aloud was KJV. I learned from the blue catechism. No minister would ever wear a chasuble, back then. that would be “papist”. On the other hand, he did not have his pick of shirt color, either. We never stood to receive communion an, yet, the church I am at, now, built in the ’60s, has no kneeling at the altar and the altar is away from the wall. But, we have kneeling rails in the pews and kneel during confession and some choose to kneel during distribution. My old congregation of German stalwarts said we didn’t have rails because that kind of kneeling was a”Catholic” thing (even though “may kneel” was in the hymnal – we knew better.) In fact, it was the new minister whose first confirmation class was my own who came in and made us more “catholic”, he told those old Germans off. Look at our denomination. we’ve gone from protesting a government who wanted English taught in our schools to putting flags in church. You know, a German visitor told me about the last time they let that happen…We go through changes in practice, form new ones, recall old ones.

        Now, no one wears suits every Sunday. But, I’m OK with that because where we are located, many in the area don’t own nice clothes and, like it or not, they don’t go near the churches where everyone is well-dressed. I am free to put on the dog, but I choose not to, for them.

        I have experienced abbreviations in the Ordo and it is one of things I persistently object to. It is usually omission of Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei in favor of something contemporary on those particular Sundays. for the sake of time, they even omit a closing hymn, sometimes. But that is a Catholic thing, not to have anything after benediction because the mass is over. And I object to praise songs, based on content, not aesthetics, even though that repulses me, as well. But, you know, the contemporary stuff is not there for young people, it is there to satisfy a certain type of baby-boomer. I haven’t plumbed the depths of that one, yet. Those are the ones who grew up Lutheran.

        Putting all that to the side, I still only want to hear, in conversation, what people are coming to believe. If that is sound, all the rest is flexible. If I hear people getting the wrong message, learning the wrong thing, then I go to work. If nothing else, we stand apart from all other churches in Word and sacrament, we preach the truth about justification. So, by us, the Church stands, it does not fall, in spite of our human traditions.

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      2. This is a reply to the last statement from HLewis’s reply to this–if that makes sense!

        “I still only want to hear, in conversation, what people are coming to believe. If that is sound, all the rest is flexible. If I hear people getting the wrong message, learning the wrong thing, then I go to work. If nothing else, we stand apart from all other churches in Word and sacrament, we preach the truth about justification. So, by us, the Church stands, it does not fall, in spite of our human traditions.”

        This is true. But it misses something very important. The way we are created, the way we communicate, the way we are *formed* includes things like “liturgy”. It is simply a matter of fact. There is a saying: “Lex orendi, lex credendi”–the rule of praying is the rule of faith. What people believe is formed by how they worship. Therefore, the rule of *faith* must govern the rule of praying/worship. That is what led Luther to reform the Roman Mass, but to do it in a very conservative way–keeping the structure of the Mass, the Western Rite, while throwing out everything that taught and formed the people contrary to Christ and His Word.

        The Church, through 2000 years (and more, even!), has developed the rite (we use the “Western rite”) for the Divine Service precisely because it conveys clearly, through variation within repetition, precisely that Truth of the Holy Scriptures–Jesus Himself. Is Jesus present if you leave out the Kyrie or the Sanctus? Sure. But the rite, the “liturgy” of the Lutheran Church, in *every* part, is extremely effective at teaching the Faith. Why would we want to abandon it?
        The argument may be made–because the outsider won’t understand it. But they won’t understand true Christian worship in *any* form, since they are *outsiders*. Teach them the liturgy! It’s not hard, actually, though it is incredibly rich. After all, it is nothing but the Word of God, and flows theologically from beginning to end.
        If, in a particular place or instance, there is the necessity of “simplifying” the order, fine, as long as the Content is maintained. But I am utterly convinced that what most “not-Lutherans” consider “necessity”, in such consideration, is, well, weak theology creating such where no true necessity exists. “Potential new members won’t want to join our church, if we don’t do ‘creative’ things with our worship!” Horse-hockey! AC V puts that to rest.

        It is *very* important that we *continue* to have this conversation, so, thanks, HLewis, for your thoughtful engagement.

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      3. I think we agree that the contemporary stuff is not attractive. But, I have long ago learned, as I said, that it is not newcomers or outsiders with this notion. it is a generation boomers who, having grown up in the LCMS, were poorly catechised by their pre-war parents. What the church is, how it should look, and what “attracts” them has more to do with Woodstock and fear of looking old, that attracting young people. There is a jadedness to them and these are my assumptions.

        Since I head up outreach at my little church, I work to carefully balance the desires of the existing base to have this expression while bringing in new people. I do understand the theological and pedagogical importance of the liturgy. As I also said, I find most praise music objectionable in content as well as aesthetics. the challenge, there, is for me to remain on substance simply because it is the aesthetic appeal of praise music to these others which trumps substance. For my money, the tune of a Gloria and contemporizing the language would be fine if the only objection I could have was aesthetic. Keep in mind, for me, even though the LSB setting I is a late 19th/ early 20th century Lutheran product, the TLH is my comfort zone and I am well under 60 years of age. So, I am as uncomfortable with praise as I would also be with 12th century chants because my hymnody and worship is stuck in the baroque and 19th century imitations – that’s just the honest truth, not a basis for claiming superiority.

        I am well aware of “Lex orendi, Lex credendi”. However, that only pertains to the chosen wording which, if it is scripture/ scriptural, regardless of the vernacular or style, would be appropriate. Nor do our confessions avow a single rite and formula for worship which prohibits a shift in focus/ emphasis toward one aspect, over another. Rome is far more obsessed with controlling expression than Luther was. His piece on the German Mass is quite informative where he actually envisioned a portion of the Church moving beyond rite and prescribed rite as more essential to the uninitiated and young.

        “And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.” (AC VII)

        “For the honor is taken away from Christ when they teach that we are not justified gratuitously by faith, for Christ’s sake, but by such services; especially when they teach that such services are not only useful for justification, but are also necessary, as they hold above in Art. VII, where they condemn us for saying that unto true unity of the Church it is not necessary that rites instituted by men should everywhere be alike.” (Ap XV)

        Formula and rite are valuable traditions but they fail to serve us if we attempt to doctrinalize practice, itself. Then, we lose the Reformation and serve outward forms, holding them up as the way to be. As Lutherans, we are granted a tension. We can maintain the value of something without the insistence on it and we need to focus criticism, not on the form of rite, but the substance. There is nothing catechetical about where, when, or if we recite the Kyrie. Perhaps, generations of Lutherans, who know freedom in Christ, not accepting “this is what we do” as a solid explanation and realizing we can pray this in, longer forms or in other places, at other times in the service, or not at all and still have Word and sacrament, confession and absolution, have decided to be flexible.

        I agree this is an important dialog and, as a person committed to churchly tradition, I feel there needs to be room for variation in proper expression. That there needs to be honesty over what the goals are and the value of tradition. If we are being honest, the great mass of people in church, where I live, that’s Roman Catholics, simply believe “this is the way we do things.” Confessional Lutherans need to go beyond that. to do so, they need to focus on substance, not style, and they cannot legislate ritual. We have words for communion, prayer, absolution, creed, benediction, baptism. The fact is, if we had nothing else around these other than scripture readings, not even hymns, worship would be complete. We have not done this well. We have relied on conformity and frowning to preserve tradition.

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  3. We have, as a church body, failed at catechesis. There is no other answer. The “Confirmation” practice at it’s best, typically studies the Small Catechism, something that should be taught in the home, and that’s the end of it. And that’s in the best cases. In some congregations they barely open the book. In most Churches that’s where it ends. As a 53 year Lutheran Layman, I have NEVER attended a long form adult study of the Large Catechism, Never. I have moved several times and attended 8 different LCMS Churches in my adult life and have never had this opportunity. If we don’t take the time to understand the interpretation of scripture that we all supposedly adhere to, is it any wonder that our beliefs and practices.are infected?

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