Thanks so much to those who have taken the time to look at my posts to the FiveTwo crowd (here and here) Especially the person I met with personally who attended the FiveTwo Wiki2014 conference and told me her answer to my question “why do you want to be a Lutheran?” was “I am a Lutheran!”
That made me realize I need to say this: for those who have a strong sense of being Lutheran my question can also be understood as: “What keeps you Lutheran?” “Why, particularly, do you want to stay Lutheran?”
OK, here is my new appeal: Please prayerfully consider exploring what you might have in common with Pastor Richard Stuckwisch. Spend a little time with this man by listening to him talk about living a “sacramentally-shaped life” (I myself plan on listening to all the FiveTwo lectures I can find that are free online).
Not only is Pastor Stuckwisch unrelentingly kind, patient and passionate about Jesus, but he to says “we become a living sacrament for our neighbor”.* And more: he talks about how worship in a church is not about strict uniformity and elsewhere notes that there is a lot of freedom in worship… what works well in one place may not work well in another…
Now here is a traditional Lutheran you can really identify with, right?
Seriously though, before you are tempted to quote him as a “paradigm-shifting” “sacramental entrepreneur”, make sure you listen to him share those remarks in the context of his amazing talk.
Another note on my last post: a commenter there was under the impression that I thought that those who resonate with FiveTwo do not want to be Lutheran. That is not the case – as I said, I really do believe that many FiveTwo-ers do want to be Lutheran. I don’t doubt that that desire is there – I just wanted to learn more about why they want to be, or to stay, Lutheran.
If my post did not make you question in the least whether or not you wanted to be Lutheran, I rejoice to hear that!
You see, I want to be faithful in the word – and that means the Lutheran confessions (I actually dropped out of seminary years ago because I did not know at the time whether or not I could, in good conscience, subscribe to them). I also want to be faulted for putting the best construction on things – as much as I feel my conscience will allow me to do that.
I feel like it is responsible for me to do this because I do know more missional people who, when I ask them tough questions about the sacraments, for example, give me good, solid, Lutheran answers. I do not think they are lying.
That said, I do think they should take very seriously the questions that many of the converts to confessionally-riveted Lutheranism have for them: why do you want to worship more like Baptists, evangelicals, charismatics, etc? (see here again and comments, for example). Whether these converts are conscious of it or not, are they not in fact stating the principle “Lex orandi, lex credendi” (the Latin loosely translated is “the law of praying [is] the law of believing”)? Is that observation that our practices of prayer (and worship in general) affect our beliefs, so rooted in Christian history, to be quickly dismissed?**
Note: I am still not sure if I want to do a thread dedicated to giving persons a chance to respond to the responses I received from that last FiveTwo post. I really would like to have had more persons to have answered there before doing that.
Now, I don’t think I should discount the possibility that my last post might have made some persons question whether or not they did want to be Lutheran. In the event that that is the case, I again say this:
Please listen to Pastor Stuckwisch’s talk about “the word that sanctifies your days…”. (from the link supplied above: either one of his “Living the Vida Sacramenta” talks [mostly same talk for different audiences]). I’ll be very honest: I can’t conceive that any Christian not listening to this would not want to embrace most all of what Pastor Stuckwisch says. This is some rich and beautiful teaching! It sets my heart on fire! It makes me want to love all with Christ’s strong love. To embrace any “interruption” – any neighbor – he might throw in my path!
I used to be pretty opposed to Lutherans who seemed to me overly concerned about traditional and historical stuff. I rebelled against them. I did not really understand the things Pastor Stuckwisch talks about much at all. I think the kind of thing that really helped me is meeting pastors like him. I realize some tend to think of confessional Lutherans as always veering towards “legalism” – I am afraid I once did to – but I think he truly defies such labels. He, like many other good men, has clearly embraced with joy what he believes and lives it to the hilt. As such, he teaches with some real authority. He’d no doubt agree with this statement:
Doctrine is life because that just means living from the precious words that come from Christ’s lips!
If you can’t find yourself loving Pastor Stuckwisch and most all of his heartfelt message, that would make me very sad to hear, because it would be very hard for me at that point to have any idea about where to go from there….
Final food for thought….
At the FiveTwo conference it was talked about how each one of us had a “unique sacramental identity”. This might sound appealing, but let me share a quote with you from a friend that seems very wise to me now, but may very well have likely rankled me just fifteen years ago:
…if we want to speak of Christians having “sacramental identities,” it should be in the singular—”sacramental identity“—for it must be recognized that this identity is anything but unique, and that this is a good thing. We all share the name Christian, because all of us are being conformed to the image of the one Christ—yes, we are all being Christified, truly. It’s the same mould. It’s that lesson you learn in high school: you don’t have to try to be unique; you simply are unique, so get over yourself; no, the thing you have to try to do is be normal (i.e., conform to salutary norms).
Does that sound depressing to you? The “normal” or ordinary Christian life? (new book by a non-Lutheran often thought to have Lutheran sympathies). Or is there something wonderful about simple, humble, weak, and quiet (and perhaps sometimes boring)?
Get this: another more traditional pastor, Greg Alms, perhaps helps us to better understand how for some believers in particular, this is literally their life line… Speaking of his teenage struggle to have a “personal connection with Jesus”, he writes “I could never quite get there. As I struggled to establish a rapport with this Jesus who seemed to want me to be emotional and talkative, I recall a distinct feeling of not getting it, of missing something”…. He goes on: “Most of the time, I didn’t feel elated or close to Jesus. Mostly I felt guilty for not being a better follower…” He went off to college, and drifted away… What brought him back?
“I only found Jesus to be meaningful and real to me individually when I looked for him in the shared experiences of “church.” I “experienced” Jesus in the voices of shared hymns that had been sung for centuries. I “felt” the presence of God amidst my personal inner struggles and hurts in the prayers I knew by memory, in doing the same things over and over, in things with little or no immediate emotional content: chewing bread, making the sign of the cross, hearing a formal, recited absolution of my sins. What became important to me as a Christian were these outward formal things. My personal relationship with Christ became rooted in the moments when I found myself surrounded by countless hosts of Christians in heaven and on earth, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” (read whole post here)
Note that Pastor Alms also says much more, including “There always has been a tension in Christian experience between the individual and the group”. I hope his words about the importance of his experience of God make a bit of sense for you as they do for me. I know they would make sense to some young twenty-something Christians I talked with recently – two who can identify with some or all of Pastor Alm’s experiences.
The article from Alms might be a good place to start to, but again, I really recommend Pastor Pastor Stuckwisch’s talk first…. Again, please consider giving the man a listen.
*So is Pastor Stuckwisch saying that we really are sacraments? I’d suggest this a figure of speech…. metonymy, meaning “a figure of speech that replaces the name of a thing with the name of something else with which it is closely associated. We can come across examples of metonymy both from literature and in everyday life.” Or, “the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant, for example suit for business executive, or the track for horse racing.”
**Why the almost visceral reaction that so many converts to confessional Lutheranism have when they see Lutherans worshiping more like evangelicals, charismatics, etc? I wonder if it has to do with something Pastor Stuckwisch talked about in one of his talks about freedom and responsibility (the second one): the sacraments (as well as the Word of repentance and faith in Christ) are not just a part of worship – included in worship – but are actually constitutive of it.
Of course as many veterans of the “worship wars” know it is not only converts to confessional Lutheranism that are dismayed but confessional stalwarts themselves. Pastor Peters, at his very popular blog Pastoral Meanderings, offers less combative and more thoughtful commentary here in a post titled “Cross Pollination”.
“…we are told over and over again a Lutheran can be in fellowship with people who do not believe exactly as we do, a Lutheran can use worship formats that have no basis in our Confessions, a Lutheran can sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs written from vantage points vastly different than our Confessions (including here the Creeds) and it does not dilute or diminish the Lutheran distinctives at all. But how can this be? How can it be that we practice a communion discipline at odds with our own Confessions, we worship like people of other confessions, and we sing hymns and songs that do not adhere to the Lutheran practice of singing the Gospel and the faith, and NOT be affected by it all???
Cross pollination is not always a good thing. In this case [NOTE: he is writing about ELCA agreements with its ecumenical partners] the Lutheran angst about requiring baptism (at least) of those who commune is occasioned not by a dispute with Lutheran doctrine and practice but a queasiness over how it goes down with ecumenical partners who do not have such a requirement. In other words, our acceptance of a diversity of confessions that do not parallel or agree with our own is okay but not practicing a different requirement for admission to the Lord’s Table. The inevitable conclusion is that what is always on the table for discussion and review is NOT the stance of others but our own historic and confessional identity — one that seems ever ready for surrender by those who care more about a supposed conflict with the Methodists rather than conflict and disconnect with our own theological tradition and historic practice (and that of the church catholic we claim to preserve in our Confessions).”