I’m all about being an historic Lutheran. Contemporary additives have never been my cup of tea. But wait! Before you get ready to reply vociferously in the comment box, let me explain.
I’m not referring to worship style, church architecture, or how people dress. I’m talking about new attitudes that have been developing over the past two generations and are being superimposed on The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. These contemporary inclinations may seem normal to a generation isolated from the past, but, in the context of historic Lutheranism, they are very new and can be extremely harmful. Allow me to share just two along with their contrasting vantage points:
1. Wounded Fear versus Mission Courage: For more than a century, the LCMS exhibited courageous mission energy. Beyond merely the assimilation of natural demographic growth, the church built bridges to new communities, varied ethnicities, and people far from God in distant lands and local areas. The growth is statistically stunning: one new church every week on average for more than 100 years and the development of churches across the globe.
The LCMS rupture that culminated in the 1970s wounded a courageous and outreaching church. The division cast a pall of fear, hesitance and suspicion over a once bold and dauntless mission movement. A 1950 LCMS convention resolution provides context for this contrast: “Resolved, that The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod call upon its total membership for an even greater love and devotion to the Lord and Savior of mankind, and a consequent burning zeal for the lost souls of men.” All people were called to a burning zeal for the souls of the lost.
The contemporary development in the LCMS is crippling fear. Over the past 40 years, the LCMS has been drifting into a spirit of protectionism that, like the frightened servant in Matthew chapter twenty-five’s parable of the talents, fearfully buries the treasure of God’s Word rather than boldly putting the Word to work so it can bear fruit.
What if we took the risk of adopting a renewed historic energy for the purpose of courageous Gospel work? That is healthy historic Lutheranism.
2. Comfortable versus Self-Sacrificial: For more than 40 years, my generation has become very comfortable. I am among those who are tempted to put retirement plans, health benefits and creature comforts above inconvenient and self-sacrificial efforts for the sake of the Gospel. Historic Lutheranism was anything but comfortable. People started churches before pastors were on the scene. Laypeople and pastors journeyed far and wide to serve multiple mission outposts in addition to the local church. God’s people gave up time and resources to pursue the priority of sharing the Good News of Jesus.
The LCMS was by no means perfect. I am not trying to idealize the past. But the facts speak for themselves. The balance of energy was toward self-sacrificial outreach and an energetic pursuit of seeing God’s Kingdom make headway in communities and among individuals.
How might a renewed spirit of historic self-sacrifice pry us from self-indulgence and move us in the direction of greater engagement with people and communities in need of Jesus’ love and grace?
When Martin Luther triggered the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, he wasn’t trying to invent a new church. He was calling the church back to its historic foundation and vantage point. Contemporary Lutheranism that is fearful, protectionistic and comfortable can learn from Luther’s initiative. What will it take for us to move forward as truly historic Lutherans?
By: Rev. Michael W. Newman
Mission & Ministry Facilitator, Area C