Lutheran Leanings


why-not-lutheranismThe American Conservative has an interesting article entitled “Why Millenials Long for Liturgy.” You can probably guess what it’s about. A very brief selection:

America’s youth are leaving churches in droves. One in four young adults choose “unaffiliated” when asked about their religion, according to a 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, and 55 percent of those unaffiliated youth once had a religious identification when they were younger. Yet amidst this exodus, some church leaders have identified another movement as cause for hope: rather than abandoning Christianity, some young people are joining more traditional, liturgical denominations—notably the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox branches of the faith. This trend is deeper than denominational waffling: it’s a search for meaning that goes to the heart of our postmodern age.

My question for readers is this: why don’t more of these young Christians looking for liturgy end up in Lutheran churches? As the article notes, most seem to go Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican.

Now it’s understandable why so many might end up Catholic. Assuming these Evangelicals are looking for a church that takes seriously the history of the Church, then Roman Catholicism is a fairly natural fit: with 67 million Catholics in the USA (about 23.9% of all Americans), they are certainly the most visible church. But why are Anglican and Orthodox churches such a drawing point where Lutherans aren’t? Anglicans and Orthodox Christians make up only 1.5% and 0.4% of all Americans respectively (2.32 million Anglican, and less than 1 million Orthodox). Lutherans, by contrast, more than double Anglicans and Orthodox put together (5.1% of all Americans, or 7.86 million people). Heck, there’s as many confessional Lutherans in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod alone as there are all Anglicans in the United States. So why don’t more Evangelicals-going-liturgical become Lutheran? Could it be that, despite having smaller numbers, Anglicans and the Orthodox have nevertheless presented more coherent denominational identities to the wider public? Have Lutherans been so insular that wider Christendom in North America isn’t clear who we are and what we believe?

If you’re a young Christian who went liturgical, why did you end up where you did? Had you even heard of Lutheranism? Did you (or do you even now) know what Lutherans think?

 

UPDATE (December 22): This post has roused interest elsewhere on the web. Gene Veith picked it up over at his blog Cranach, where more than 300 comments have accumulated in just over a day. And Anthony Sacramone provides his own go at an answer over at Strange Herring. To sum up his answer: “Lutherans are boring.” You’ll just to check out his (very good) post to see what he means by that.

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two-hands-see-all-the-peopleThe Fall 2013 issue of Concordia Journal (CJ) focuses on renewed interest and effort among confessional Lutherans in taking part in wider ecumenical discussions. To that end, it begins with a reference to an article I wrote for First Things some months back:

This past summer, a blog by Mathew Block at First Things noted that the LCMS under President Matthew Harrison’s administration has actively pursued conversations and developed good relationships with the leaders of other Christian traditions both here in North America as well as round the world. This is a very good thing!

From there, Charles Arand (executive editor for CJ) goes on to note that “our Lutheran Confessions have bequeathed to us an ‘ecumenical obligation’ (Robert Kolb) to engage in conversations with other Christians in order to remove stereotypes of each other, clarify our confession, cooperate where we can, and work toward resolving long-standing disagreements for the sake of the church’s witness in the world.”

After discussing a number of recent issues affecting the Church—and especially Lutheranism—both in North America and around the world, Dr. Arand reflects that “we live in an exciting and uncertain time as the Christian landscape shifts before our very eyes.” For that reason, he writes, “it is fitting in this issue of Concordia Journal that we reflect on what has taken place up to this point and where things are going as seen through the eyes of those outside the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. In a sense, this issue provides some context for what is happening in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church and for how the LCMS is finding a wider place at its table.”

We may, of course, expand on Dr. Arand’s words here to confessional Lutheranism on a global scale. Indeed, his introduction to the issue itself highlights Lutheran Church–Canada’s contributions to ongoing dialogue with the North American Lutheran Church and the Anglican Church in North America, as well as the International Lutheran Council’s emerging discussions with the Roman Catholic Church on the world-level. Important things are happening in Christendom worldwide; “we are witnessing a seismic shift in the Christian landscape resulting in realignments of churches around the world,” Dr. Arand writes. Confessional Lutherans, it seems, are committed to taking part in the resulting discussions.

There is much in this issue worth pondering. If you’ve got a print-edition, why not take a look now? For everyone else, it doesn’t seem to be online just yet, but you should be able to find it here eventually. Dr. Arand’s introduction to the issue is already online here. For those of you with immediate access, Jeffrey Kloha’s article “The Lordship of Christ and the Unity of the Church” makes for excellent reading.

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Two pieces of news worth noting:

1) I’ve recently been named Editor for the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) news service, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. I’ll be taking on this position in addition to my current roles as Communications Manager for Lutheran Church–Canada and Editor of The Canadian Lutheran (making room for the new work by shuffling off some of my previous duties to others). For more information on what I’ll be doing with the ILC, check out this news release here.

2): In other ILC news, I’ve written an article for First Things discussing Catholic-Lutheran dialogue in light of a recent meeting at the Vatican between the ILC and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. While noting that some hopes in Catholic-Lutheran discussions have faded from the optimism of decades past, I suggest that the entrance of confessional Lutherans on a global level to dialogues with the Roman Catholic church may breathe new life into discussions. Check it out in my article “A New (Confessional) Direction in Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue.”

That’s all for now.

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My column for the September/October issue of The Canadian Lutheran is available online. That issue of the magazine had a dual focus on international missions and remembering the Reformation. I like to think I tied together those two focuses together in a fairly coherent way in my article, reflecting on St. Paul’s teaching that our faith moves us to share the Gospel. “We believe, therefore we have spoken.” The good news of salvation through God’s grace—the Reformation truth of justification—is not something we keep to ourselves. We can’t keep it to ourselves. It bursts forth from our lips—the Good News that Christ’s death and resurrection has accomplished our salvation.

cl2805-coverLuther could not keep quiet about this discovery; the Good News that we are declared righteous through faith in the Gospel was something everyone needed to know. Like Luther, we too are motivated by the Spirit to tell others that God accepts them on the basis of Christ’s mercy, not their works. Indeed, our faith compels us to share the Gospel. St. Paul explains it well: “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:13-15).

Read the whole article online here: We believe, therefore we speak.

As many of you are already aware, I recently did an interview for Issues Etc. on the subject of predestination (back on October 25, 2013). The invitation to speak came after an article I wrote for First Things entitled “Why Lutheran Predestination isn’t Calvinist Predestination.”

If you happened to miss it earlier, you can listen to the interview with Issues Etc. below:

2. The Biblical View of Predestination – Mathew Block, 10/25/13

blockMathew Block of the Lutheran Church-Canada

Play

My latest at First Thoughts has caused a bit of a ruckus. Check it out here: “Why Lutheran Predestination isn’t Calvinist Predestination.”

The disparity between the identification of Calvinists with predestinarian doctrine vis à vis Lutherans is precisely because the concept of predestination that exists in the public mind is Calvinist, not Lutheran. People hear the word “predestination” and think of the Calvinist doctrine of double-predestination—the idea that God has chosen some to be saved and chosen others to be damned (or, put in less inflammatory language, that God has chosen some to be saved and others he has not so chosen). Either way it amounts to the same thing: those who are damned are damned because of God’s (lack of) choice. Calvin himself writes, “We assert that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined both whom he would admit to salvation and whom he would condemn to destruction” (Institutes 3.21.7).

Such a doctrine is abhorrent to Lutherans. And, indeed, contemplation of such a doctrine was abhorrent also to Luther.

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mary-dormition-abbey-jerusalem-2013

August 15 is the traditional date when the Church celebrated the Dormition (ie, the “falling asleep”) of Mary. But surely, you say, that’s just a Catholic thing. Why should Protestants care?

I answer that question in this post at A Christian Things: “‘All generations shall call me blessed’: Even the Protestants.”

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