Disaffected evangelicals sometimes swim the Tiber, going over to Rome. Others swim the Bosporous, to Constantinople and Eastern Orthodoxy. But they would do better to swim the Mississippi, to the St. Louis-based Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
So says an article at RealClear Religion by Tom Raabe entitled Swim the Mississippi: Why Conservative Lutheranism is the Faith Tradition Many Evangelicals Seek.
I should say that you can also swim the Mississippi and land in Wisconsin, home of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. And you can swim the other way and find yourself in Minnesota, home of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. So swimming the Mississippi is a fitting figure of speech for finding confessional Lutheranism in the United States. Though we could speak of swimming the Assiniboine in Canada or the River Murray in Australia, a more global expression would be swimming the Elbe to Wittenberg.
Evangelicals who value tradition and history may not know that in conservative Lutheranism they will find the same critical elements of Christianity for which the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are known. Retaining membership in the true church, celebrating baptism and the Lord’s Supper in all their power, singing the historic liturgy–the very things many evangelicals seek when they turn to the east–are all found in conservative Lutheranism. . . .
Also appealing to evangelicals making the move east are the ceremonies of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Lutheranism is sacramental as well; it narrowed the Catholic seven sacraments to two–the two instituted in Scripture, which are baptism and the Eucharist–but left intact their power to remove sins. Luther did not allow them to be interpreted representationally, as others in the Reform did. Thus, they are termed “means of grace”: spiritual vehicles whereby sins are forgiven. Like Catholics and Orthodox believers, we hold to the real presence in the Lord’s Supper, that Christ is physically present in the elements, and to the sacramental power of this means of grace–our sins are actually forgiven in the eating and drinking. . . .
Other rituals were either retained or abandoned on the basis of Scripture. One such is the historic liturgy. . . .Luther kept the historic liturgy in his renewal of the church, both because it did not run counter to Scripture and because the people were accustomed to it, enriched by it, and comforted by it. It was their vehicle for accessing the gospel.
The hymnals used by conservative Lutheran churches feature this centuries-old historic liturgy, much of which harks back to the biblical witness. They also contain the millennia-old ecumenical creeds, one of which is confessed every Sunday, and the books are organized around the liturgical calendar–from Advent to Pentecost–which rehearses, yearly, the entire history of salvation.
Historically, Lutheranism has contributed significantly to the beautiful and meaningful music that makes up those hymnals. . . .Conservative Lutheranism retains the Bible as the sole religious authority. Certainly, the Bible plays a role in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, but it isn’t the supreme authority in doctrine and practice. When the Bible is forced off center stage, bowing to tradition or reason, the door is opened to theological error.
[Keep reading. . .]
I would add that evangelicals who swim the Mississippi will also learn the proper distinction of Law and Gospel, which will give them a stronger appreciation of what Christ has done for them, filling them with the assurance of salvation and a genuine, righteous Christian liberty.
They will also see the holiness of ordinary life, as they learn about their vocations in the family, the workplace, and the society, and how God works through them as they love and serve their neighbors.
Swimming the Mississippi will also cleanse their faith from the contamination of politics, while still allowing them to pursue their political interests and responsibilities in their vocations of citizenship.
I myself have swum the Mississippi from the empty desert of mainline liberal Protestantism. Who else has plunged into the muddy waters of Old Man River and come out on the other side? Tell us about it in the comments.
If you want to learn more, read my book Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals. Also my book with Trevor Sutton, Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to the Postmodern World.
HT: Steve Bauer
Photo: Upper Mississippi River Watershed by Bob Nichols, Public Domain via publicdomainfiles.com.