Friends, you should read the comments on Chaplain Mike’s sacrament post at Internet monk, linked above. It’s touching how some of his evangelical readers are responding to what he is saying.
I have to say, though, that I’m kind of ashamed that some of these potential Lutherans have come to THIS blog, which Chaplain Mike links to, and are marveling about how all we Missouri Synod Lutherans can say about his joy in discovering Lutheran theology is to castigate him for joining the ELCA! There are comments to the effect that, I’m staying away from those LCMS types, but I might investigate the ELCA. Thus our polemics against the ELCA turn people away from us and make the ELCA more attractive! That’s not very effective argumentation, to make people agree more with your opponent than with you!
But there is something else that we Missouri Synod Lutherans need to face up to. Say you are a disaffected “post-evangelical” who hears about Lutheranism. It sounds like the kind of Christianity you are yearning for. You are especially fed up with what passes for worship where you are now, and the sacramental spirituality that you are reading about in Lutheranism is more than compelling. So you visit the local Missouri Synod congregation. Isn’t it true that it is extremely likely that you will walk into a contemporary worship service with a pastor that is trying to out-evangelical the evangelicals? You will go into an LCMS congregation looking for Lutheranism, but it may well be that you won’t find it!
I don’t know how many times I have heard about this happening, including from people who read my book Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals. (In fact, I know that this happened with some of you regular readers and commenters on this blog.) So if someone finds Lutheranism in another synod–WELS, ELS, even ELCA–do we have the standing to complain?
What percentage of LCMS congregations do you think follow the historical Lutheran liturgy? Half? Less than half? In some areas of the country, far less than that? I have been in lots of Lutheran services and heard lots of sermons, not all of which distinguished Law & Gospel or even preached the Gospel. Some of them were as therapeutic and as “theology of glory” and as “power of positive thinking” oriented as Joel Osteen.
I know these congregations all pledge allegiance to the same doctrinal standards, to the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions. But do they really hold them in actuality? Perhaps someone could explain to me, humble layman that I am, why, if we demand doctrinal agreement for pulpit and altar fellowship, we can commune with a congregation that exhibits no visible Lutheranism in its public teaching but simply is on the same LCMS roster.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m as supportive of the LCMS and as critical of liberal theology as anyone can be. But to say that Chaplain Mike, in joining the ELCA, is just joining mainline liberal Protestantism is manifestly not true. What he is finding in his congregation that he is responding to so gladly is not leftwing politics or feminism or gay marriages. Rather, as he says, he is finding the centrality of Christ, Law & Gospel, vocation, worship, the sacraments, and the other things he is discussing in his three posts.
Now the problem with the ELCA is that many of their congregations do not concentrate on those Lutheran teachings and that our hypothetical seeker-after-Lutheranism may well not find them there either. I would go so far as to say that he or she would be more likely to find them in the LCMS, for all of our problems, or in WELS or ELS or another conservative synod. The problem in American Lutheranism has always been the temptation to conform to some variety of American Protestantism–whether mainline liberal (the ELCA’s temptation) or generic evangelicalism (the LCMS’s temptation)–rather than just being Lutheran. Chaplain Mike will doubtless find that out. In the meantime, we Lutherans need to welcome him into our tradition. We might also think how we might welcome more like him, rather than scaring them away.