Thursday, December 31, 2009

It’s What’s in the Middle that Counts

Overheard on the December 18 Listener Email and Issues, Etc. Comment Line:

Producer Jeff Schwarz: Let’s talk about our own church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. We have leaders throw out terms like “Law and Gospel,” “Word and Sacrament,” and the lay people hear it, and they say “Sounds Lutheran to me.” But in practice, they don’t preach Law and Gospel, they intend to grow the Church not through Word and Sacrament. So, you know, it’s a, you could have the postmodern way, or how would you describe what we see in our own church body where we hear leadership use the right terms, the right Lutheran terms, but in practice, I don’t know if they interpret them differently, or…

Host Todd Wilken: That’s what I was just talking about. I was talking about, you know, Bishop Hanson [the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America], what he does is, his vocabulary, his native language, is no longer the language of Holy Scripture, or of the Lutheran Confessions. That’s not his native language any more. When he speaks that language, it is, he is engaging in a foreign tongue. That is the mark of a church bureaucrat when they lose the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions as their native language because they’ve also lost it as the way they think. If you don’t think in a language you’re not gonna speak in that language very comfortably. And what we have in our church body [the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod] are basically company men, institution men, who think of the church in institutional and company terms, but they’re still savvy enough to toss in a few Lutheran buzz words, to make it sound like they still think like church men rather than company men. So they’ll toss in Word and Sacrament. You ask them what they mean they might not even be able to name the Sacraments or explain what they are according to Scripture. They’ll toss in Law and Gospel, they’ll toss in other buzz words, of course also with a healthy dose of things like “missional” and “intentional” and all the little words that make them feel so warm and fuzzy inside. I mean if you’re going to be a bureaucrat and a company man just talk like a bureaucrat and a company man and then we know exactly what it is you really think and what it is you’re really saying. Drop the buzz words. We don’t need them. For the most part they don’t necessarily communicate anything at all. If you’re going to say “Word and Sacrament” then practice it, then promote it. I’m saying this to the leaders of our church. If you’re gonna throw Word and Sacrament in to make it sound Lutheran why don’t you just go all the way and be Lutheran, and promote that kind of thing? The real, solid preaching of the Word, the administration of the Sacraments. If you’re going to talk about Law and Gospel then promote that kind of preaching, and that interpretation of the Bible, rather than “how to” sermons and all this other stuff. If you’re going to talk, use the word “Confessional” or “Confessions,” really be what you say you are. And we’ll know by the way, because your Lutheranism won’t be just a few buzz words thrown in to otherwise very bland, boring, and bureaucratic speech. We’ll know when your whole vocabulary, and what you promote, and what you sanction, that is in the positive sense of the word, is genuinely Lutheran.

I couldn’t agree more. Time after time we see programs and presentations that start out and end with some nod to “Word and Sacrament,” with page after page of un-Scriptural ideas about leadership, purpose, and transformation in the middle. Call the thing what it is. You’re not fooling anyone when you say something has a “congregational bias” that is actually biased against congregations. You’re not fooling anyone when you call something a “movement” which you started yourself. You’re not fooling anyone when you say the Synod is “exceptionally unified” when you have to wear a jetpack to get from one side of the divide to the other. Let’s work towards getting back to the language of Scripture and Confession, not just at the front and the back end of what we say, but in the middle of our daily lives as well. Let’s be Confessional Lutherans once again.

photo credit: Lawrence OP

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